To best treat patients, nurses must overcome bullying, hazing

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I saw an article in The Florida Times Union that there was a recent summit for nurses at Jacksonville University to talk about bullying in hospitals.   Honestly, I did not know that happened but I am not surprised after the years of medical malpractice litigation we have done at Edwards & Ragatz, P.A. The convention had about 200 nurses, professors and students attend the Florida Quality and Safety Education Course to hear researchers describe what they believed to be the best way to prevent infection and improve safety and reporting errors.  What most nurses and students were interested in getting guidance on was how older nurses bully younger nurses.    According to Sonia Balevre who was presenting her doctoral dissertation, the phenomena exists not only in Northeast Florida and is rooted in nursing and in all health care in America and world wide.  Research shows that almost one in five nurses leave in their first year of practice, and another one in three leave within two years.  These statistics come from a 2014 study from Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice.  Those nurses cite incivility and bullying.  Another 2014 study indicated anywhere from 27% to 85% of staff nurses report being bulled at work with new nurses at even a higher risk of experiencing bullying.

An American study by Vessey et al (2009) of nurses found that bullying was reported by a wide range of staff. Bullying occurred most frequently in medical surgical care (23%), critical care (18%), emergency areas (12%), operating room/post anaesthesia care unit (9%) and obstetric care (7%). Perpetrators included senior nurses (24%), charge nurses (17%), nurse managers (14%) and physicians (8%).

Another Jacksonville University study found that 64% of nurses witnessed or been victim to bullying in a six-month period.  According to Japhetia Blackwell, a nurse of more than 30 years who teaches at local colleges, told the forum that bullying isolates nurses, and no nurse can work alone. As she so eloquently said, “The patients suffer when we don’t come together.” Sometimes, Balevre said, resolving bullying is as simple as telling the bullies you want them to stop. A lot of times, she said, skilled nurses have been bullying for years and it’s been tolerated, so they may not know their bullying.  Roberta Christopher, a Jacksonville University professor who oversaw Balevre’s research, first became interested in the topic because of her personal experiences. As a new nurse two decades ago, she was told to check on a patient who was preparing for surgery on his head and neck. Her fellow nurses didn’t tell her that the patient had blown off his face, and she wasn’t psychologically prepared. When she walked out of the patient’s room, her fellow nurses watched and laughed.  That behavior, she said, leads to errors that hurt or kill patients.

As mentioned above, bullying can lead to adverse patient outcomes, as well as time away from the job so that the nurse can deal with these conditions. This is turn can affect the staff-to-patient ratio because a nurse is unable to perform her duties. Thus a pattern arises in which bullying creates physical/psychological maladies, leading time off of work for nurses and adverse outcomes for patients.

As one nurse said at the course, the key is to talk. Report the bullying. Talk to your fellow nurses; don’t clam up.

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